This post is sponsored by Camp Birchwood, a summer camp in Minnesota for girls.
Did anyone else have a nemesis when they were growing up? I did, we’ll call her Sally. Sally bested me in everything. She had the coolest clothes, was the smartest, most well-liked, and her parents gave her a brand-new car on her 16th birthday. Clearly, I still have some issues to work through with my relationship with Sally, but I haven’t told you the one thing that made me more jealous than any of those others, Sally got to go away to summer camp every year.
When I was growing up, I thought that going away to summer camp only happened in the movies. I begged my parents to let me go to summer camp, any summer camp! But they wouldn’t hear of it. So later on, I did what most jealous and insecure people would do; I never went to camp myself but sent my daughter to summer camp as soon as I thought she was ready.
I didn’t just send my daughter to any camp, though. I sent her to Camp Birchwood in Minnesota. Camp Birchwood has been hosting girls for summer fun for more than 60 years with a mission to help girls gain self-confidence and build resilience through hands-on learning. I had heard about Camp Birchwood growing up through other lucky friends whose parents, unlike mine, actually loved them (yes, I’m still bitter).
Getting my husband to agree to send my daughter to camp was a hard sell. He had not attended summer camp himself and didn’t understand the point or the expense. If he had it his way, our kids would spend their summers outside with a rock, a stick, and a wing and a prayer.
My daughter, Payton, attended Birchwood for the first time during the summer after fourth grade. In the weeks leading up to camp, we watched videos on the website, read the blog, shopped for camp necessities, and talked through anything and everything that I could imagine might be a problem at camp. Camp Birchwood offers two-week introductory programs and more traditional summer camp four-week programs. Payton would be attending a two-week session in July, and by the time the day arrived for her to leave, I had decided I couldn’t let her go and that there was no way this was happening.
But my husband forced me to drive her to the airport, where she would meet up with the other campers from the Kansas City area and a chaperone from Birchwood. I started crying as soon as I got to the airport. I couldn’t imagine letting my baby go for more than one night without me. I got a special pass to go through security with her and stay by her side until the moment she boarded the plane. I quickly learned that I was the ONLY mom helicoptering like this, and I ended up wearing my sunglasses inside the airport to hide my tears and grief. According to Payton, her girlfriends still tell this story at camp because, in her words, “I’m THAT mom.”
So, off went my little girl on what would be the most amazing adventure of her lifetime. And off I went on a two-week journey of depression and self-doubt about my existence. I had wrapped up my identity completely with hers. I didn’t know how to function without focusing on her. Keep in mind, I also had a son, full-time job, friends, family, oh, and a husband, but at some point, my life had started to revolve around her only. Payton going to camp for two weeks was like a tough-love boot camp for me. I thought more about my role in my daughter’s life more than I had in years. I’ve always hated this expression, but Payton attending camp was like a cutting of the cord all over again.
As for Payton, she had the time of her life at camp. She made new friends, tried archery, canoeing, tennis, windsurfing, hiking, horseback riding, tubing, and so much more (they offer over 25 activities that campers get to select each day), and she fell in love with what has become a passion of hers, sailing. She wasn’t homesick once, and the character-building that happened during her time there is immeasurable.
Payton has gone to Camp Birchwood every summer since only missing last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Being fortunate enough to send my daughter to summer camp is a privilege that I am so thankful for. I genuinely feel that her experience at summer camp is helping prepare her for her future. She has made many lifelong friends and a week has not gone by where she hasn’t mentioned a camp memory or experience.
When Payton goes to camp each summer, it is my opportunity for a mental health check-in with myself. It’s a time to remind myself that my world can’t revolve around others, even my own children. A friend once told me that it’s impossible to give my best to others if I’m not at my best inside. Maybe I had a valid reason to be jealous of Sally, summer camp really has changed my life.